Plans for a “supersized” industrial estate in the Herts countryside are one step closer to being signed off. A developer has vowed to spend the profits they make from the estate on works to a “high risk” dam nearby, according to documents.
At a meeting earlier this month, Hertsmere Borough Council’s planning committee agreed to grant planning staff the power to green-light the plans. Councillors heard that without repairs to the dam, Aldenham Reservoir could be lost, with no more sailing, fishing or walking at the lake.
But opponents have warned a new industrial estate near the Hertsmere border with Harrow, off the A411 Watford Road, puts “prime” green belt at risk. At a previous meeting, campaigners had previously accused the dam owners of “systematic neglect” of the reservoir.
At the most recent meeting, Clare Newton, opposing the application, pointed to national planning rules which set out “where there is evidence of deliberate neglect of a heritage asset, the deteriorated state of the heritage asset should not be taken into account in any decision”. Ms Newton added: “Enabling development is defined as being the minimum level of development required to repair and secure the asset.
“Here, the applicant requests permission for a supersized site of [6.97 hectares] of prime, high-performing green belt.” Ms Newton said: “In our opinion, this would not represent enabling development but an opportunistic attempt for the applicant to secure a long-term profit and business advantage for essentially a ‘quick fix’ to the dam wall.”
Aldenham West councillor David Lambert (Con) attended the meeting and spoke in favour of the development. “For over 30 years, I’ve sailed on Aldenham Reservoir – in all seasons and in all weathers – and at least once a week, I walk my dogs around the perimeter,” Cllr Lambert said.
“I’ve always felt better for that sail or walk. I’ve met thousands of people, many of them in this chamber now, who have enjoyed the reservoir and its surrounds, and I’m sure it means as much to them as it does to me. In the early ’90s, there was talk about the security of the dam, but as the lease was held by Herts County Council up to 2015, it was comparatively low on the radar.
“2015 arrived which concentrated minds for solution, and the past eight years has seen much activity to secure the reservoir. Three years ago, the water level was reduced which made sailing impractical, angling not much easier, and the whole area decidedly unkempt.”
Cllr Lambert added: “The application before you is an enabling development, from the profits of which the owners will provide funds to rebuild the dam and reinstate the water levels, which sounds like success to me. Of course, there will be hiccups along the road, but this appears to be the closest we have come to a practical solution.”
‘What would happen if the owners didn’t happen to own a parcel of green belt over the road?’
In a committee debate, Cllr Maxie Allen (LD, Bushey Park), said: “What would happen if the owners didn’t also happen to own a parcel of green belt over the road? If they never owned that, or the other property was miles away, would we all sit here thinking ‘if only they owned some land over the road’?
“Other means would be found. Other means would be tried. This is presented as the only option and the only way – that’s what we have to decide and that’s what makes it so difficult. The scale concerns me.”
Cllr Paul Morris (Con, Bushey Heath) said: “My concern on this is that if it wasn’t for the dam, we wouldn’t be considering this application. It is a green belt site. My view is whilst there may well be merit in allowing some degree of development, the scale of development is well beyond what is reasonable.”
Planning staff urged councillors not to speculate on “what ifs”, which may not stand up as a valid reason to oppose the industrial estate, if developers took their plans to the national Planning Inspectorate. Cllr Christian Gray (Lab, Potters Bar Furzefield) said: “This is a difficult decision to make – we all know that.”
He said he was “proud” to support cross-party efforts at Hertsmere Borough Council to save the reservoir. “We have to look at this planning application on its merits, and from the paperwork, it is a fully compliant application,” Cllr Gray added.
“Up until very recently, the updates we had at council was that we were all pushing towards [a] workable solution. Yes, we may have to take the applicants a little bit on trust, and there’s a bit of give and take, and there’s a bit of negotiation. I think we’ve been fair with the amount of checks and balances in place.” Councillors voted to grant the application in principle, six votes to four, with one abstention.
In making their decision, councillors agreed the developers must set up a Community Interest Company or similar organisation to secure maintenance, management and improvements to the dam – which would feature directors from the community on the company board. The proposed industrial estate is set to create around 510 jobs when it is fully up and running, making a contribution of around £34million each year to the local economy.